This year the New York City Police Department announced that it would be integrating a new fleet of drones into its policing procedure for large events. In 2018, the NYPD also announced that it was experimenting with a lasso that would subdue citizens during mental health crises. Even as policing becomes more technologically advanced (see: predictive policing) it also serves us constant reminders that it is an institution temporally trapped. As often as they go to cutting edge technologies to mitigate problems, they also draw upon the well of history—even if that means redeploying tactics that would have looked familiar a century and a half ago. This is why, 2018 was a year in which studying the history of policing, crime, and incarceration was more pivotal than ever.
All year the increasingly frequent overlapping worlds of public scholarship and academic publishing have been rife with important work to help us contextualize both this change over time and the continuity in the history criminal justice and state power. University of North Carolina Press’s intrepid “Justice, Power, and Politics” series edited by Heather Ann Thompson and Rhonda Y. Williams has published incredible works including Max Felker-Kantor’s Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance and the Rise of the LAPD, Tera Eva Agyepong’s The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender, and Delinquency in Chicago’s Juvenile Justice System, 1899-1945, and Adam Malka’s The Men of Mobtown: Policing Baltimore in the Age of Slavery and Emancipation, which helps historians fill in that pivotal moment as the state and its deputized mobs transitioned from attempting to subordinate enslaved individuals to attempting to exert control over free citizens. Similarly, Monica Muñoz Martinez’s 2018 book The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas from Harvard University Press provides an analysis of how state and non-state violence on the U.S.-Mexican border was interwoven. The findings of this book, including its essential chronicling of the Texas Rangers, should now be at the center all of historians’ analysis of state violence, police power, and U.S. imperialism.
Other books that came out this year also open up new directions for how historians in the future can better understand police, not as faceless agents of the state, but as people and laborers with their own ideologies. Timothy Lombardo’s Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics from University of Pennsylvania Press provides historians and readers with an understanding of law and order politics from the ground up as it chronicles Philadelphia police commissioner and mayor Frank Rizzo’s rise to power by playing on the politics of race, place, and blue-collar white ethnicity. As the news media becomes increasingly aware of how prevalent extreme ring-wing and white supremacist ideologies are within the ranks of police and the military in the United States, Kathleen Belew’s earth shattering new book Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America from Harvard University Press, is increasingly essential. It should now be an expectation that all scholars of state institutions like the military and police departments look at the types of networks and ideologies that can form within those infrastructures.
In addition to each of these authors making a number of media appearances to discuss their books and expertise, good scholarly analysis of policing and incarceration have also been prevalent in forums like the Washington Post’s “Made By History,” including Dan Berger’s article on the Florida prison strike or Susan Pearson’s article connecting state management of birth certificates with Jim Crow and racial state building . The Boston Review’s most recent issue “Evil Empire: A Reckoning With Power” also features a number of historians of racial state building, empire, and state violence including Marisol LeBrón, Nikhil Pal Singh, and Stuart Schrader. This very blog, The Metropole and its “Disciplining the City” series ran a number of incredibly interesting and useful pieces this year, including Carolyn Levy’s article on policing a gendered morality in 19th century San Francisco.
2019 will be a bigger year for scholars and students hoping to enrich the growing field of carceral studies. In the upcoming year, the field will continue to grow as scholars expand what we consider the boundaries of the carceral state. Historians of politics, surveillance, immigration restrictions, the policing of gender and sexuality, the relationship between the state and segregation, all have an opportunity to contribute to our understanding of the development of carceral logic. In the current climate where people divulge an overwhelming amount of personal data—from taste in shoes to DNA—to profit-seeking corporations known to cooperate with the police, it is essential that historians of prisons and policing understand surveillance and knowledge production about subjects as central to the carceral project. Books like Sarah Igo’s The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America and 2017’s Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America by Josh Lauer, and Simone Brown’s 2015 book Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness are as requisite reading for scholars grappling with how the state learned how to build a its current system and who to inhabit it with.
Across the country, scholars interested in the carceral state spoke to politicians, law schools, and served as experts and consultants on questions of criminal justice and prison reform. Scholars also used their positions in and out of universities to contribute to invaluable prison education programs and to bring attention to the indignities of modern incarceration. Around the country scholars have also lead symposia, conferences, workshops, with students, the public, and incarcerated people to discuss the meaning and history of the carceral state and how it effects the lives of so many. The Urban History Association, the purveyors of this blog, hosted close to ten panels at its 2018 conference in Columbia, South Carolina that touched on issues of incarceration, crime, and policing.
As the field of imprisonment and policing history becomes larger in the coming years, my hope is that the scope of that field will stay wide and inclusive. More scholars and more scholarship means we can all continue to grapple with how diffuse the power of the state and its deputized civilians and corporations can be. As many scholars have shown, policing and incarceration directed at vulnerable people on the edges of society inform what happens at the center, and how policing looks in the center informs the type of policing used at the edges. Historians, however, have never been better equipped to excavate, to quote Kelly Lytle Hernández, “incarceration—and the patterns it harbors.”
During the Progressive Era, there were parts of New York City that police understood as being immune to the exertions of state power. These areas could be rendered illegible and uncontrollable for a number of reasons. In some instances, as I have discussed on The Metropole before, the foreignness of immigrant populations, especially people of Chinese descent, often made it hard for the majority of Anglo-Irish police officers to communicate with witnesses or understand the motives behind alleged crimes. In other situations, the city’s unknowable alleyways, shadowy dead ends, dangerously unstable infrastructure, and rebellious residents prohibited police interventions.
The Mulberry Bend served as one of the most notorious examples of a location seemingly immune to state intervention or local attempts to instil law and order. A crowded collection of tenements and alleyways, the Bend formed in the elbow-like turn of Mulberry and Baxter streets in the Five Points neighborhood. Before the administration of Mayor Strong took on the Bend in 1895, reformers concerned with overcrowding, squalid conditions, and the breeding of crime and disease, had for years advocated the destruction of the crooked cluster of buildings and its crisscross of alleyways. Jacob Riis, the journalist, reformer, and close personal friend of President of the Police Board of Commissioners Theodore Roosevelt, was partially responsible for the eventual push that resulted in the destruction of the Bend. His 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives, shocked upper class New Yorkers with its sensationalized and often demeaning depictions of working class life in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. One of the more disturbing photographs to aristocratic sensibilities was that of the “Bandit’s Roost,” at 59 ½ Mulberry Street. The image shows a narrow alleyway in the Bend, darkened by the closeness of the buildings and the prevalence of laundry draped from clotheslines above. On either side of the alley men, presumably immigrants, stare down the photographer—some hanging from windows, one holding a plank menacingly.
“There is but one ‘Bend’ in the world, and it is enough,” wrote Riis. “In the scores of back alleys, of stable lanes and hidden byways, of which the rent collector alone can keep track, they share such shelter as the ramshackle structures afford with every kind of abomination….” The Bend depicted by Riis was one in which police feared to enter—where fleeing criminals could run down an alleyway, or into a tenement, and be lost to authorities. “Post Thirteen,” as police referred to it, was everyone’s last choice to patrol and often where officers would send recent appointments to scare them, or perhaps as a hazing ritual.
If and when police did enter the Bend, it was often as part of a raid on the area’s “stale beer” dives and required a number of policemen to execute. These raids often required either local guides or undercover police to scout ahead of time to find the dives which were often hidden “in back rooms at the end of long, dark hallways, up creaking and greasy stairways or in attics with low, blackened ceilings.” In one instance, an undercover officer doing reconnaissance before a planned raid actually consumed the “stale beer,” and was reportedly bedridden for six months as a result.
The Bend was not just dangerous for police attempting to navigate it alone; it was also a place that was profoundly filthy. One report from the 1870s, suggested that only 24 of the 609 tenement buildings in the Bend were in decent condition. In the mind of Riis, these dark, damp, and crumbling living quarters bred disease as well as crime. In the year 1882 alone, he recorded that 155 children died in the Bend from disease. It was a place where even the “sanitary reformer, gives up the task in despair.”
Riis, and many like him, saw one solution to both the problem of health and crime in the Bend; remake the space so it would not longer be a literal and metaphorical dark spot on the maps of police and sanitary inspectors. Under the new reformist Strong administration, and with the help of Roosevelt, the 600 families that inhabited the Bend were required to vacate by June 1, 1895. The city auctioned off each building, and their new owners were required to move them off the bend as soon as possible. Despite Riis’s claim that only residents and rent collectors could navigate the alleyways of the bend, as of the day of auction, it was estimated that no one had been able to secure rent money from tenants in over six months.
After the destruction on the Bend, the elbow-shaped plot of land became the open and green Mulberry Bend Park, renamed Columbus Park in 1911. Where once there stood an illegible area, a place seemingly immune to the exertion of state power, there now stood an open park, which purposely left barely a tree to hide behind.
On April 4th, 1857, the San Francisco newspaper Daily Globe published a column concerning the existence of Chinese prostitutes in the city. Daily Globe was a short-lived newspaper, published only from 1856 to 1858. Although the newspaper did not last, the column published in the Daily Globe is indicative of the public sentiments that pushed for the development of organizations like the California Workingmen’s Party—which, in turn, pushed for laws targeting Chinese immigrants. Police forces alone could not prevent Chinese prostitution in San Francisco. However, the combined actions of the police, white citizens, and the federal government effectively targeted the Chinese and reduced the number of potential threats to white America. The column on April 4th read:
“The Voice of Many Citizens.
An indecent exhibition of harlots, has, for some weeks, disgraced the streets of San Francisco. An open insult to the family of every citizen is daily paraded through the principal promenades, in the shape of a gaudy equipage with liveried servants, filled with the most notorious of the abandoned women of the city. In a larger place than this, so audacious a violation of the proprieties of life, would perhaps pass unnoticed, but this community, the wrong to good morals, and to the fair name of our city, is too apparent not to require prompt action to stop so disgraceful a scene—one which tells to every child in the city a tale of infamy, and which is a mock and insult to every honest woman who is forced to meet it in her walks. This thing has been suffered long enough. It is now a crying evil, and while Chinese brothels are being deluged with water on every opportunity, infamy in a gilden [sic] coach is allowed the freedom of the city. A warning is now given that this scandal can not be permitted. It will be well for those interested to take heed.”
Professional police departments were a relatively new development at the time this column was published. As such, the anonymous writings published in the Daily Globe speak to the perceived need for citizens to aid in dealing with crime in the city. Published prior to the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments as well as the building of the transcontinental railroad, there were few reasons for the federal government to intervene in immigration in San Francisco in the 1850s. However, within a few decades, the federal government had enacted multiple laws—including the Page Act (1872), the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), and the Geary Act (1892)—in order to control Chinese immigration and therefore the composition of individuals living within the United States. How did moral policing instigated by citizens, understood here as white, likely middle-class individuals and groups, transform into a federal immigration issue? The answer lies in the policing of racialized others within the United States.
Historians have attempted to trace the development of Chinese and Asian racialization in the United States. Racializing the Chinese as yellow, and therefore not white, made it easier to attach other issues to racial difference. Arguments about moral and religious differences stemmed from racialization, and these accusations of difference had real political consequences. Individuals like the proclaimed “Voice of Many Citizens,” pointed to Chinese prostitutes as symbols of immorality, and therefore the antithesis of respectability. The writer’s threat to take heed should not be viewed as a mild warning, as moral policing in the United States could result in forcibly intervening in the lives of those deemed immoral. Indeed, as reform movements surged during the Progressive Era, reformers used intrusive and violent strategies, as seen with groups like the Society for the Suppression of Vice and the Committee of Fourteen and Committee of Fifteen in NY.
The 1857 column cited here serves as an early sign of the sentiments behind the push to legally discriminate against the Chinese. The arguments for Chinese exclusion were not limited to gendered moral critiques. The Page Act stated that, “the importation into the United States of women for the purposes of prostitution is hereby forbidden…it shall be unlawful for aliens of the following classes to immigrate into the United States, namely, persons who are undergoing sentence for conviction in their own country of felonious crimes other than political or growing out of or the result of such political offenses, and women “imported for the purposes of prostitution.”” The Page Act was created in order to prevent Chinese female prostitutes from immigrating to the United States, but in practice the law was used to stop almost all Chinese women from coming to the United States. The Page Law’s emphasis on the deviant moral character and sexual nature of Chinese women demonstrated the significance of maintaining and protecting an American form of culture and sexuality that was considered the moral norm. Scholar Eithne Luibhéid described the Page Law as the “harbinger not only of sexual, but also of racial, ethnic, gender, and class exclusions that were codified by subsequent immigration laws.” The Page Law serves as proof of the role public discourse and the state played in determining respectability. This relationship between the public and the state is further revealed in the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Geary Act. The power to police was not restricted to police forces, nor was it solely based on the impetus of state authorities. Within the general public, white American citizens played a crucial role in monitoring and policing racialized others.
Carolyn Levy is a PhD Candidate in the dual-title program with the departments of History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research focuses on constructions of gender, sexuality, and respectability in the United States during the nineteenth century. You can find her information at http://history.psu.edu/directory/cal65 and follow her on Twitter @carolynannlevy.
 Najia Aarim-Heriot, Chinese Immigrants, African Americas, and Racial Anxiety in the United States 1848-1882 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003). Aarim-Heriot describes the process of racializing the Chinese as “Negroization”. See also Michael Keevak, Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011).
 See Jennifer Fronc, New York Undercover: Private Surveillance in the Progressive Era (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2009). See also George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (Basic Books, 1994).
Our third and final entry in The Metropole/Urban History Association Graduate Student Blogging Contest explores the intersection of law enforcement, imperialism, and American racial hierarchies through the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago intended to reflect the high point of U.S. and white Western civilization and, according to reports published by some of Chicago’s most famous detectives, the police that patrolled it did the same. The centerpiece of the exhibition, the White City, was a sprawling downtown full of water features, glittering towers, and grand facades done in the French Neoclassical style. However, as the scientific advancements, historic recreations, and white domes attracted millions to the fairgrounds, the Chicago police also feared the temptation of millions of wallets and naïve tourists would attract visitors of a seedier element.
In an effort to police the impeccable international city with an impeccable international police force Chicago police utilized the new technologies and tactics developed by police departments in the U.S. and across Europe throughout the 1890s. Enabled by a number of scientific and bureaucratic advancements they had imported from departments around the globe, the Chicago police attempted to put the cutting edge of policing into practice in the White City.
For instance, the criminal file, complex systems of identification, new vehicles, and modern investigative techniques were all in use at the Columbian Exposition, and each had been recently imported to the U.S. from police departments in Europe. In many instances, the European detectives who invented and utilized these innovations were the veterans and masterminds behind new systems of coercive governance in colonies abroad, making late nineteenth and early twentieth century police departments in Europe—and invariably the U.S.—the product of a growing sense of globalism and a lasting imprint of imperialism on the intellectual and urban landscape.
During the exposition, Chicago detectives specifically worked with the Bertillon method, a system of identifying criminals based on bodily measurements, which had been developed by M. Alphonse Bertillon of the Paris police department. Likewise, for months, the Chicago police reportedly collected criminal files and familiarized themselves with the faces of the most notorious wrongdoers in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe should any of them appear on the fairgrounds.
Like the technologies and tactics utilized by the police, the men recruited to the force were also of an international makeup and intended to represent the pinnacle of white Victorian manhood. Historians like Gail Bederman, Kevin Murphy, and Michael Tavel Clarke have shown how “[l]ate Victorian culture had identified the powerful, large male body of the heavyweight prizefighter (and not the smaller bodies of the middleweight or welterweight) as the epitome of manhood,” and how these racialized, gendered, and embodied values became deeply engrained in police departments across the United States. Images of Victorian manhood often deliberately excluded men of color. Despite a slowly growing presence of African American patrolmen in the Chicago police department—, of the 2,000 job openings for the “Columbian Guard,” the policemen of the White City—, not a single man of color was hired for the force.
For a year before the official start of the exposition, the Chicago police recruited dozens of detectives from cities across the United States and from around the world as they culled the corrupt, lazy, and “unworthy” members from their department. Each major police department from Europe was asked to detail, and provide the salary for, two of their own officers to patrol the city should any of their hometown villains make an appearance. In total, 600 foreign police reported for duty at the exposition, all of them white, tall, and fighting fit.
To walk around the exposition, it was nearly impossible not to internalize the intended argument that the future of the United States was unassailably white. Where people of color did exist at the exposition, they were relegated to the outskirts, or the metaphorical past. Along the Midway, the main thorough fair at the exhibition, American Indians participated in “outdoor living exhibits” as part of an anthropological and chronological journey through Western civilization. Nearby, one of the largest living exhibits on the Midway was the Dahomean Village, a sensationalist view of a West African village portrayed through stereotype and colonial trope.
African Americans at the fair also received little representation. After mostly excluding Black exhibitors from other halls, the exposition never fulfilled their initial intention of creating, a hall for the literary accomplishments of Black Americans. As the fair progressed, the Haitian building became a center of organizing and activism. Under the editorship of Ida B. Wells, and with writing and collaboration from Frederick Douglass, a group of activists wrote, published, and distributed a pamphlet entitled “The Reason Why the Colored American is not in the World’s Columbian Exposition.” In the pamphlet, which over 10,000 tourists received, lynching, and the police who enabled it, were as much on trial as the exclusive white organizers of the exhibition.
Like the event itself, the police at the Columbian exposition may have represented the current high water mark of modern science and technology, but it also served as a reflection of the white society’s evolving commitment to imperialist thinking and white supremacy—after all, this was the event where historian Fredrick Jackson Turner rolled out his “Frontier Thesis.” The police force’s internationalism, both in officers and in tactics, only emphasizes that the project of subordination along racial lines was not unique to the United States, but an undertaking shared and collaborated on by imperialist powers on either side of the Atlantic.
Matthew Guariglia is the editor of The Metropole’s Disciplining the City series and a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Connecticut. His most recent work on the dangers of overzealous government surveillance appeared in the Washington Post for its “Made by History” series earlier this summer.
 W. McClaughry and John Bonfield, “Police Protection at the World’s Fair, “ The North American Review, Vol. 156, No. 439 (June, 1893), 711-716.
 Gail Bederman, Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995, 8.
 Christopher Robert Reed, All the World is Here!: The Black Presence at the White City, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002, 74.
On February 7, 2017, the Los Angeles City Council ruled against colleagues on the Cultural Heritage Commission. After a lengthy and emotional public comment period, the Council decided not to designate Parker Center, the longtime headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department, a local historic monument. The following month, the Council approved a new master plan for the Civic Center that included a 27-story tower on the Parker Center site. These decisions ended years of wrangling by preservationists, neighbors and city leaders about the future of the building.
Built in 1955, the police department abandoned Parker Center 54 years later when a new headquarters was constructed a few blocks away. The site’s large size and proximity to City Hall made it a target for redevelopment and many city leaders supported demolition of the “outdated” and “inefficient” building. The city’s goal for the site was to consolidate departments scattered around the downtown area and to reduce the amount spent on leased space.
Parker Center may have been bright and shiny when originally built, but its construction and the legacy of its namesake cast a long shadow over the preservation debate. The building was a complicated symbol for Los Angeles; representing the problematic history of the LAPD and the loss of a significant portion of the Japanese neighborhood of Little Tokyo. The fight to preserve it had divided allies and pitted communities that usually worked together against each other.
Parker Center as Scar
Preservation documents prepared for the Cultural Heritage Commission briefly mention the buildings that occupied the Parker Center site before its construction. The reports described the area simply as “residential with small clusters of commercial and industrial enterprises.” Newspapers from the period gave a slightly fuller view, suggesting that the number of buildings removed to accommodate Parker Center was “enough to meet the business needs of a good-sized city, among them landmark structures that were notable in Los Angeles’ pre-metropolitan days.”
Parker Center occupies some of the oldest blocks in Los Angeles. In the 19th century, the land was used for cattle and planted with grape vines. As the city urbanized, the neighborhood was settled by a racially and ethnically diverse mix of African American, Jewish, Irish, German and Chinese newcomers. After 1900, Japanese families established businesses along First Street and by 1920, the area was the “undisputed center” of Southern California’s Japanese community. Twenty years later, on the eve of World War II, approximately 35,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans lived and worked in what had become known as Little Tokyo.
In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 and the Japanese community of Los Angeles was forcibly removed. They were released from the internment camps three years later and returned to the city. In the years they were gone, Little Tokyo had become home to thousands of African American migrants who were drawn to Los Angeles’ industrial jobs. After the war, Japanese Americans began to re-establish businesses in the area. However, in 1948 the city council identified the heart of Little Tokyo as the location for the new police headquarters. The area bounded by First Street, San Pedro, Market Street and Los Angeles Street was designated part of the Los Angeles Civic Center and the City Attorney’s office began to acquire property through eminent domain proceedings. Forty-three individual parcels were condemned and the site was cleared.
Designed by Welton Becket and Associates, in collaboration with architect J.E. Stanton and landscape architect Ralph E. Cornell, the new “Police Facilities Building” was nationally recognized when it opened in 1955. Like many of his other projects, the building represented the architect’s commitment to the idea of Los Angeles as a “city of tomorrow.” For the LAPD, Becket created an 8-story International style building with crisp right angles and spare detailing. Sitting away from the street, the landscape that initially surrounded the building occupied an entire city block with sprawling lawns, decorative river rock and gardens inspired by a Japanese Zen aesthetic. The design received an Award of Merit from the AIA in 1956 and a contemporary review suggested that the building represented a “brand-new design category” of centralized public facilities. Drawings were displayed by the Architectural League of New York and the building was entered in the League’s 61st National Gold Medal Exhibition of the Building Arts in 1960. Becket’s success with the Police Facilities Building earned the firm additional commissions in the Los Angeles Civic Center, including the Federal Building next door and the various buildings for the Music Center on the top of Bunker Hill completed in the 1960s.
While acknowledged as an architectural icon, city staffers received numerous letters against preserving Parker Center. More than 3,000 African Americans had been displaced by the condemnation proceedings of the 1940s, and yet most letters recalled the losses of the Japanese American community. Letter writers described a pre-war world of rich familial and social connections. They talked about shopping in stores now demolished and included family photos with smiling siblings and relations in front of restaurants and small businesses. The letters also told stories of grandfathers who participated in sumo wrestling at a dohyo on the block and uncles who founded the still extant Rafu Shimpo Newspaper in a building on the corner of First and Los Angeles Street.
For many Japanese Americans, saving Parker Center meant preserving a scar. It was a reminder of years of disconnection and “mass displacement.” The building’s presence in the neighborhood inspired anger. In his comments before the Planning and Land Use Commission, Chris Komai of the Little Tokyo Community Council suggested that the building represented an “unfair seizure.” He went on to say that while its architecture might be admired, the LAPD building had cut Little Tokyo off from the Civic Center and the rest of the city, “Look at it. All we see is its back.” Kanji Sahara, another opponent of preservation, spoke for many when he told the commission, “the city said they needed the land for a ‘public purpose’ – to build Parker Center. Now that the public purpose has gone away, the Japanese people want that land back”.
In arguing against preservation, some letter writers found themselves in an uncomfortable position, noting that they would normally be on the side of those trying to save a building. The break with the Los Angeles Conservancy was particularly difficult. The Conservancy was a strong and vocal supporter of the Little Tokyo National Register District that protected several blocks of the neighborhood’s early commercial core. More strategically, the Conservancy was an essential and necessary ally. Due to gentrification pressures, local landowners had begun to sell older properties to developers and there were concerns that Little Tokyo would not “survive”. While Parker Center was an issue, local leaders still considered preservation to be an important tool to control growth.
The Historic American Landscape Survey for Parker Center prepared by the city’s Department of Public Works emphasized the building’s architectural legacy and defended the structure using the technical language of preservation. The report had not addressed the site’s previous Japanese and Japanese American users. The documents also failed to acknowledge issues important to other communities of color in Los Angeles. While innovation described the structure, social conservatism defined the LAPD that filled the offices.
Chief Parker Divides the City
Early Parker Center preservation documents described the Los Angeles Police Department in glowing terms. Later comments by staff of the Cultural Heritage Commission suggested that the department’s legacy among Los Angeles’ non-white communities was “complicated.” The Los Angeles Conservancy acknowledged that the building was named for the “controversial” Chief William H. Parker. All three sources credit Chief Parker for professionalizing the department, however the abuses of power that accompanied this professionalization are hard to ignore.
William Parker joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 1927. He became its leader in August 1950 and served in this capacity until his death in 1966. During his tenure, Parker established strict new standards for the recruitment and training of officers. According to the Historic American Landscape Survey, Parker was a “policeman’s policeman.” He “inspired in all who served the department the higher ideals of service and justice, as well as a new sense of pride, professionalism and self-discipline.” The Chief’s efforts in this area earned him a national reputation that he capitalized on through his friendship with the actor Jack Webb, who played Sgt. Joe Friday in the 1960s television show, Dragnet.
While he may have inspired the department’s rank and file, in private Chief Parker was an impatient and ambitious man. He was also quick to attack. Like a “horse charging toward the apocalypse of our times”, Parker was critical of anyone who disagreed with his strict law and order prescription for society.  He resisted political oversight of the LAPD and attempted to undermine the credibility of his detractors. According to Parker, only the “criminal, the Communist and the self-appointed defender of civil liberties” called for restrictions on police authority. Parker’s impatience was accompanied by a sustained and irrational paranoia. He attributed his failures to local democrats, the Truman administration and to communist sympathizers who he imagined had personal vendettas against him. To balance the scales, Parker created a “mysterious and highly secret” intelligence gathering unit within the LAPD that reported directly to him. The group served as his personal “Pretorian guard” and, before it was disbanded by court order, the unit had amassed thousands of records on 5×8 note cards. The files contained data on known criminals, as well as political and public figures.
Parker coined the term, the “thin blue line” to describe the police as an institution that stood between “civilization and barbarism”. However, Parker’s LAPD was capable of its own brand of barbarity. Records from the department’s Internal Affairs Division show that in 1951 alone, the police received 848 complaints of brutality. Internal investigations substantiated 298 of these complaints and yet just 10 officers faced disciplinary action. Only two officers were removed from the force due to the complaints.
Newspapers frequently reported incidences of police violence while Parker was in command. Patrolmen fired their weapons at a doctor in East Los Angeles who had apparently failed to yield because he was rushing to the bedside of a sick child. A local bus driver was hospitalized after officers attempted to “subdue” him during an arrest. Among other injuries, the driver sustained a blow that ruptured his bladder. A shoemaker was approached in his car by two plain clothed officers with their weapons drawn. The officers pulled the man from the car, threw him to the ground and repeatedly kicked his head. The man was taken to the hospital and later informed that the officers had mistaken him for a suspect.
On Christmas Day 1951, seven young men were arrested on misdemeanor charges and taken to the city jail where they were savagely beaten for hours by somewhere between 15 and 50 police officers. When the incident came to light, Parker claimed to be “vigorously” pursuing an internal investigation. However, the allegations against officers were so appalling that they could not be contained. A judge ordered a grand jury and public inquest. During the hearings, police officials were asked to describe the night. According to the judge, their testimony stunk, “to high heaven and all of the perfumery in Arabia cannot obliterate its stench.” Thirty-six officers were disciplined by the LAPD, while 8 others were indicted for assault with a deadly weapon. Of the eight, five officers were found guilty and sentenced to either one or two years in the Los Angeles County Jail.
Despite public commitments to reform, the brutality continued. In 1959, Herbert Greenwood, the only African American Police Commissioner, resigned citing the “unhealthy attitudes” of the LAPD leadership regarding race. Then, on a hot August night in 1965, Marquette Frye was arrested in Watts for suspicion of driving drunk. During his arrest, Frye, his mother and brother fought with an officer of the California Highway Patrol. Hundreds of residents were drawn to the scene and anger spread through the crowd. Frye’s arrest sparked six days of fighting, looting and rebellion during which thirty-four people were killed. Chief Parker saw this and other protests against the police as a personal attack. To Parker, it was the complaints, rather than the police, that were “wrecking” the LAPD. Over time, his lack of transparency and repugnant comments in the aftermath of Watts worsened relations with Los Angeles’ communities of color.
However, while Parker was unpopular for some, his strongman rhetoric was lionized by others. After his death, members of the City Council unanimously recommended that Becket’s Police Facilities Building and the ground on which it stands be named in his honor. The name change was enthusiastically supported by the city’s business elite and residents who described Parker as a “great American” and “champion of law and order.” The Sentinel, the city’s largest African-American newspaper, reported the Chief’s death, but remained silent on the issue of renaming police headquarters in his honor.
Parker was succeeded by new chiefs. However, relations between the police and Los Angeles’ communities of color did not improve and the lawn in front of Parker Center was the location of countless demonstrations against police misconduct. The issue became especially charged when Parker’s prodigy, Daryl Gates assumed the position of Chief. Gates, perhaps even more than Parker, became a symbol of the racism and prejudice that permeated the LAPD. Over the years, Parker’s thin blue line had become thicker. By 1992, it was an impassable chasm, so that when four LAPD officers were acquitted in the nighttime beating of an African American motorist on a lonely highway, the city exploded. Again.
The Police Department’s relationship with Los Angeles’ citizens of color was a quiet bass note that sounded throughout discussions about whether to save the building. Most African American leaders were silent on the issue, however a few voices sought to use and reinterpret this history by adaptively re-using Parker Center. Gail Kennard, an African American member of the city’s cultural heritage commission acknowledged that, “preserving Parker Center won’t resolve L.A.’s troubled policing history. But restored and reopened, it can remind us how far we’ve come and how much more there is to do.”
Future of the Parker Center Site
In retrospect, it is not surprising that the effort to preserve Parker Center failed. The Cultural Heritage Commission received a handful of lukewarm letters in support of preservation, but the fame of its architect could not overcome the building’s legacy of division. Parker Center sliced through the neighborhood that surrounded it, its namesake divided the city along racial and ethnic lines and the effort to save the building created rifts between the city’s preservation community.
Documents prepared by preservation planners articulated the building’s architectural value. They acknowledged Chief Parker’s problematic leadership but did not address the community that had been destroyed for Parker Center to be built. Yet, it was this origin story that ultimately persuaded members of the city council to reject cultural monument status.
City Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the Little Tokyo district spoke during the final preservation hearing. He suggested that to save Parker Center “dismisses the injustices done to many communities.” Huizar, who as a young man had delivered papers for the Rafu Shimpo Newspaper, specifically connected the history of the Japanese in Los Angeles to his experiences of prejudice as an immigrant, “I did get a bit emotional in the committee when I was talking about the injustices to the Japanese-American community…It just kind of hit me what that would have been like for those residents. And I put that into the context of what is happening today.” The councilman’s testimony was persuasive and his colleagues unanimously denied the motion to designate Parker Center.
With demolition imminent, plans have been made to save a large sculpture that was attached to Parker Center’s exterior façade and to reuse a tile mosaic that decorated the building’s foyer. No plans have yet emerged to memorialize the Chief. As Richard Barron, President of the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission suggested, Parker Center is simply “not an easy building to love.”
Meredith Drake Reitan is an Associate Dean in the Graduate School and Lecturer in the Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. Her work has been published in the Journal of Planning History, the Journal of Urban Design, the Journal of Architectural and Planning Research and in Planning Los Angeles, an edited volume for Planners Press. She writes for KCET’s Lost LA and has a blog, called the LAvenuesProject, that uses the thousands of mundane decisions that define the look and feel of LA streets to talk about the long history of the city as a planned environment.
Acknowledgements: The author wishes to thank Emily Gersema and Hillary Jenks for their comments and feedback on early drafts of this post.
 City of Los Angeles Council. Information Technology and General Services Commission. Motion 2/17/2006
 Foote, Kenneth Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy. University of Texas Press 1997, Austin
 Cohan, Charles “City to Erect Two Modern Structures: Large Area East of the City Hall Being Cleared for Projects” Los Angeles Times Sep 3, 1950; pg. E1
 Wild, Mark. Street Meeting: Multiethnic Neighborhoods in Early Twentieth Century Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2005, Berkeley; Jenks, Hillary. Home Is Little Tokyo”: Race, Community, and Memory in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles. Dissertation. University of Southern California, Los Angeles. ProQuest/UMI, 2008.
 __________ “Council Fixes Sites of Two New Buildings”, Los Angeles Times. Sep 21, 1948; pg. A7
 __________ “Police Building Wins Place at N.Y. Exhibit” Los Angeles Times. Sep 27, 1959, pg. F10
 City of Los Angeles, Planning and Land Use Committee. Correspondence from Alan Kumamoto 2/17/2017, Chris Komai, 2/7/2017, Nancy Kyoko Oda 2/6/2017, Yukio Kawaratani no date, Joanne Kumamoto 11/28/2016 and Jonathan Takeo Tanaka, 2/7/2017.
 Komai, Chris. Statement before the City of Los Angeles, Planning and Land Use Management Committee Meeting. February 7, 2017
 Sahara, Kanji Emailed communication to City of Los Angeles, Planning and Land Use Management Committee. February 17, 2017
 Tsukada Simonian, Irene. Letter to City of Los Angeles, Cultural Heritage Commission. January 10, 2017
 A light rail station has recently been erected in Little Tokyo and another is in the works. Several buildings were demolished to make way for these stations and the area is seeing increased land speculation. See Lue, Ryan. “Can Little Tokyo Survive the Growth of Downtown LA?” Planetizen. April 12, 2012. https://www.planetizen.com/node/56145
 Hertel, Howard and Berman, Art. “Thousands Mourn at Funeral Rites for Chief Parker” Los Angeles Times; Jul 21, 1966. pg. 1
 Webb, Jack. The Badge. Prentice Hall Engelwood Cliffs NJ. 1958
 Blanchard, Robert “Democratic Leader Raps Chief Parker” Los Angeles Times May 23, 1956; pg. 1
 Buntin, John. “L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City” Three Rivers Press 2009, New York
 Fogelson, Robert. “Big City Police: An Urban Institute Study” Harvard University Press 1977. Boston, MA;
 __________ “FBI Probing L.A. Police Brutality: Grand Jury Attention Indicated; Department Pushes Own Inquiry” Los Angeles Times, Mar 14, 1952; pg. 2
 __________ “Chief Parker Hits Brutality Stories: Unsubstantiated Complaints” Los Angeles Times. Feb 28, 1952, pg. 7
 __________ “Parker Hits at Charge of Brutality: Prisoner’s Claim Unfounded, Says Chief of Police” Los Angeles Times Jun 24, 1952; pg. 2
 __________ “$125,000 Suit Accuses Police of Brutality” Los Angeles Times Jan 28, 1958; pg. 5
 __________ “Judge Urges Jury Inquiry on Brutality” Los Angeles Times Mar 13, 1952, pg. 1
 __________ “Judge Urges Jury Inquiry on Brutality” Los Angeles Times Mar 13, 1952, pg. 1
 __________ “36 L.A. Policemen to Face Discipline for Brutality” Los Angeles Times, Jun 17, 1952; pg. 1
 __________ “Police Board Member Flays Parker, Quits” Los Angeles Times Jun 19, 1959, pg. 1
 __________ “Chief Parker Hits Brutality Stories: Unsubstantiated Complaints” Los Angeles Times. Feb 28, 1952, pg. 7
 Fogelson, Robert. “Big City Police: An Urban Institute Study” Harvard University Press 1977. Boston, MA; Buntin, John. “L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City” Three Rivers Press 2009, New York; Shaw, David. “Chief Parker Molded LAPD Image–Then Came the ’60s” Los Angeles Times May 25, 1992
 Mrs. Luther Liebenow. Letter to Mayor Yorty, August 16, 1966; Calvin E. Orr. Letter to Mayor Yorty. July 17, 1965. Los Angeles City Archives and Records Center. Box CC-01-1989, A-1989
During the nineteenth century, until the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, it is estimated that Chinese immigrants made their way to the United States by the hundreds of thousands. In 1900, 18 years after the massive restrictions led to a major decline of the U.S. Chinese population, there were around 7,000 Chinese or Chinese-descended residents of Manhattan’s Chinatown. In San Francisco’s Chinatown, which had a population of as high as 25,000 in 1890, the 1900 population now teetered at around 14,000. The decline of Chinese population, however, did not reflect in mounting municipal concerns over the threat of crime and contagion that Chinatowns posed to the sprawling cities around them. During the turn of the century, community desires to curb crime and retain the protections of the police was often complicated by the frequent brutality inflicted by police. Despite the fact that becoming more legible to the state often means becoming more susceptible to coercive mechanisms of power, collaboration between “native” police and majority-white police departments may have seemed to some upwardly and racially-mobile immigrants like an efficient way to provide police protection to a neighborhood without as much overt physical violence, though archives accessible now are filled with evidence to the contrary.
Other scholars, particularly Nayan Shah, have done excellent work in demonstrating the coercive over-policing done by health inspectors in San Francisco’s Chinatown, but much less has been written on the ways in which municipal police departments struggled to exert control over the language and cultural barriers that seemingly shrouded Chinatown. For both San Francisco and New York City’s police departments, the confusion of white officers policing Chinese populations are well documented in police memoirs and newspaper accounts of the era. Full of vicious stereotypes and unchecked sensationalism, many in police walked Chinatown with little or no desire to understand their surroundings. “There is probably no American who does not regard the Chinese as beings dissimilar to and dissonant with himself; as a caste shut out by its fantastic personality from his sympathies and associations,” wrote former NYPD chief George Walling in 1887, before referring to the language, writing, and religion in the neighborhood as “fantastic and bewildering.”
One attempt at extending state control into Chinese neighborhoods came under the 1896 headline “A Queer System of Espionage in the Oriental Quarter of San Francisco.” Organized by the Merchant’s Law and Order League, six companies of Chinese police were organized who, once a week, reported directly to the China’s consul-general in San Francisco. Whenever they deemed that a Chinese San Franciscan had committed a crime severe enough, the Chinese police were dispatched to summon a member of the San Francisco police, and the offender was arrested. “When they first became active agents in the Chinese quarter,” read the San Francisco Examiner, “Chief of Police Crowley was informed of their object and told of the advantages that would accrue to the department through their services. They were consequently provided with a sort of card identification or credentials.” Although it’s unclear how long this arrangement, made between the Chinese community, the Chinese consul-general, and the SFPD, lasted, the police department did not swear in a full officer of Chinese or Chinese-descent until Herbert Lee took the oath in 1957.
The New York City Police Department, on the other hand, recruited its first Chinese police officer in 1904. Warren Charles was the son of a Chinese businessman living in Boston and a white mother from Chicago. As an informant, Charles was publicly commended for helping to “clean up Chinatown,” and for braving “hatchetmen” at the behest of the NYPD. Like many multilingual male New Yorkers who served as informants for the police department, Charles was eventually rewarded with an appointment to the force and stationed in Brooklyn. Years later, and to much fanfare, Charles was offered a spot in the Chinatown precinct, an offcer he quickly declined. Unlike other officers eager to work in their own neighborhoods, Charles wanted to escape the spectacle and tokenism he thought would follow a Chinese police officer, in uniform, policing Chinatown. “The police commissioner asked me recently if I would care to serve in Chinatown,” Charles recounted to the press, and “I told him I certainly would not. I had visions right there of camera men, reporters…There, ladies and gentlemen,” he imagined tour guides saying through a megaphone, “you observe the only Chinese policeman on the New York police force. He is working in Chinatown among his own people.” The NYPD would not get its first female Asian-American police officer until Agnes Chan was appointed in 1980.
While more and more scholarship is being produced that reveals the intellectual and physical labor behind U.S. state building and the increase of that state’s capability to exert power during the Progressive era, there is still much work that is yet to be done about how communities, like the residents of New York and San Francisco’s Chinatowns, chose to resist or embrace the privileges and injustices that came along with an increased ability to police the neighborhood.
Matthew Guariglia is the editor of The Metropole’s Disciplining the City series and a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Connecticut. His most recent work on the dangers of overzealous government surveillance appeared in the Washington Post for its “Made by History” series earlier this summer.
In his 2003 work, The Contradiction of American Capital Punishment, University of California law professor Franklin E. Zimring suggested that a correlation existed between lynchings and capital punishment; states with more of the former participated at higher rates in the latter. Zimring’s statistics, Elaine Cassel argued, “should give pause to anyone who believes that the death penalty is somehow the product of reasoned deliberation, rather than simple mob vengeance.”
The connection between vigilantism, specifically lynching, and state sanctioned executions points to the possibility that America’s judicial and law enforcement infrastructure has internalized a disturbing set of values that have historically been shaped discriminatorily by race and class. Despite this possibility, no real database accounting for the nation’s history of lynching exists. A new a joint project between Northeastern University and its Civil Rights and Restorative Justice clinic is attempting to create a public digital accounting of this history.
Though the project is ongoing, historian and lead researcher Jay W. Driskell believes not only have historians not fully identified the number of lychings that occurred throughout U.S. history but that the practice might have been subsumed and obscured by the nation’s law enforcement structures. The Metropole sat down with Driskell to discuss the role of lynching in our national history, the methods used in documenting this violent past, and what the results of his study might mean in regard to the American legal system.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, how you ended up doing this kind of research? How has it informed your own views on history?
I am a historical consultant and researcher based in Washington D.C. I got involved in this project because my first book was a history of the Atlanta NAACP in its early years, so I was familiar with the organization and its records. This project is being jointly conducted between the Northeastern University School of Law and its Civil Rights and Restorative Justice (CRRJ) clinic. It is the result of a 2007 conference organized by NEU Law Professor Margaret Burnham on cold cases of the 1960s. After that conference, Prof. Burnham and MIT political science professor Melissa Nobles decided to look backwards to the Jim Crow era. The scope of the research covers 13 southern states chronologically from 1930 to 1954 picking up from where Stewart Tolnay and E. M. Beck left off in their widely-used inventory of lynchings. This database is part of each scholar’s respective research on racial violence in the Jim Crow period.
My part in this project is to uncover every lynching I could discover between 1930 and 1954. We are initially focusing on three main repositories: the NAACP Papers in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress; Department of Justice (DOJ) records located at the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA); and eventually records of the FBI. So far I am deep into the first two; the F.B.I., however, is of course it’s own beast.
What have I learned about history from all this? As somebody who has studied both labor and African American history, I always knew history was really violent. It wasn’t until I looked at the history of lynching in a very concentrated way that I came to reckon with the brutal nature of our nation’s history. Through this research, more than ever I understand what this violence looks like on an individual basis, case after case after case—and I’ve looked at hundreds of cases. When I uncover a new case, I sometimes think about my father and how old he was at the time of this killing. For example, in 1948, a political activist named Robert Mallard was murdered by a mob in Toombs County, GA for driving black voters to the polls in the recent gubernatorial election. In 1948, my dad was 14 years old. This was not that long ago. There have been mobs of thousands of angry white people, attacking a jail and killing an African American man and this happened in our parents’ lifetimes. Some of the perpetrators and participants in these lynch mobs are still alive – and unpunished. The kind of violence that the Ku Klux Klan and others unleashed was really just yesterday, and I am nowhere near certain that it won’t come back. This sort of history makes the world seem very fragile to me.
What have you learned about navigating these collections and these archives? Do you have any tips for other historians in regard to archival research?
Let me start with the NAACP. The thing I’ve learned about the NAACP is that when you get to the 1930s and early 1940s, every week they are about to close their doors because it’s run on a shoestring. Yet, there’s this moment where they realize in many parts of the country, they are the only organization doing civil rights work. Sure there’s the International Labor Defense (ILD), the Communist Party, and other groups, but the NAACP is often the only game in town. And this means that everyone is writing the NAACP asking them to take their case. Their resources are stretched so incredibly thin that they can’t do it all. For example, in 1934 NAACP president Walter White read an account of an oil field worker named Ed Lovelace, who was beaten and then burned alive in the town of Wink, TX. White wired the president of the San Antonio branch to investigate. Given that Wink is nearly 400 miles from San Antonio, and it was the site of a violent mob murder of a black man, it would take a tremendous amount of courage for another black man to take this risky journey. Instead, the San Antonio branch looked in the local newspapers for any coverage. Finding none, the case was closed as far as the NAACP was concerned. But, I can’t help but wonder had the local branch made the journey or if the national office had the resources to send an investigator, the murder of Ed Lovelace might well have been counted as one of the fourteen lynchings that the NAACP recorded in 1934.
After World War II, the organization has almost the opposite problem. The relative prosperity of the war years and the impact of the Great Migration caused the NAACP’s membership to surge. They grow so quickly that the bureaucracy sustaining the organization becomes so complex that things get misfiled, overlooked and lost in the records. So even though the papers look like they are in order – and in many ways they are—there is a lot of chaos in them. If you are patient and willing to do the work, there is a lot of new material to be harvested.
Also, many researchers focus too much on the microfilmed portion of the NAACP papers. What’s available on microfilm is really a small slice of the larger collection.
With that in mind, everything I said about the NAACP goes double for the DOJ at NARA. The DOJ is a vast, vast, agency and NARA is a massive archive. What gets recorded often depended upon how much the secretary or clerk working that day felt like filing. The main thing about working at NARA is that you have to work with the archivists. There is no way to productively navigate NARA’s holdings without the help of these archivists and their highly specialized knowledge of their subject areas. No historian, no matter how smart, will have mastered these records as they have. The NARA archvist I’ve been working with most, Haley Maynard, has been indispensable to the success of this project so far.
Why is MIT creating this lynching database?
The CRRJ intends it to become a public history resource.
How does a historian go about gathering and organizing all this data? What has been your method? Did it change as you visited different archives?
When I started this project, I thought the NAACP had done a very good job of reporting on lynchings. In many ways they had. For its time, the organization was very thorough. The problem, however, was that the character of lynching changes over the course of the 1920 and 1930s. In the words of Howard Kester who worked with the NAACP as a white southerner and thus could do undercover investigations of lynchings, it went “underground.” It became less spectacular and ritualistic and, as a result, harder to find because these killings are no longer showing up in press accounts.
So to address this part of my methodology involves recreating the event itself in my head. When you do this it really reveals how lynchings, despite their horrific nature, could be obscured. For example, who are the people who knew the most about this event? First, obviously, the victim, but unless they survived, that voice is forever silenced. The second tier is the perpetrators. When lynching was brazen and public, you can find the perpetrators in the press bragging about it. Sometimes, knowing when they are going to get off, they even sell it to the media as in 1955 when J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant killed Emmett Till and sold their story to Look Magazine. Over the course of the 1920s and 1930s as the NAACP ratchets up public pressure for anti-lynching legislation, lynchers fall silent and stop bragging.
This brings us to the third tier of people who are paying relatively close attention to who is being killed and by whom. This comprises the universe of law enforcement officials, at both the local and the federal level. There are two big reasons that law enforcement is paying attention. First, are those cases where law enforcement is either sanctioning or participating in the lynching. Second, they opposed lynching because it interrupted their monopoly on violence. While lynchers were technically breaking the law by committing murder, this act of killing was also a direct challenge to police prerogatives as the only legitimate purveyors of such violence. That’s the police. Notice, we haven’t even gotten to the NAACP yet.
The fourth tier is the press, often newspaper reporters. Small town reporters were often members of the community committing the lynching and were often members of these lynch mobs – either as participants or observers – so they give very detailed accounts. This is where modern newspaper databases have really helped my research. Chronicling America, ProQuest historical newspapers, and other newspaper digitization projects have really changed the game. For example, the NAACP had to depend on local townspeople sending them clippings; otherwise the organization had no real way to know about lynchings that occurred. So today we have access to identified lynchings that appeared in the local press at the time but the NAACP did not know about because maybe they didn’t have a branch in that town or no one in the town was brave enough to go the post office to mail a clipping to a New York address. You get the idea. This includes the black press too; shockingly the NAACP did not have full access to the black press. In fact the black press was harder to get at since they were often under-capitalized and over-extended, perhaps only issuing one publication a week. Also, even if there were lynchings, the local black press might not have covered it because these presses operated under local conditions and were sometimes unable to report freely.
Then finally, at last you get to the outer tier comprising groups like the Tuskegee Institute and the NAACP, but as you can see they are all very removed from the center of the event. It’s almost like they are the external valence shells on this historical atom. So my goal as a researcher became not to bounce around the outer most orbit of that atom, but rather to determine how to get to the center. The key has turned out to be tier three, the police and law enforcement, because they are the ones, for reasons explained already, paying attention and–crucially–keeping records. If those records wind up in the FBI or DOJ, they are at NARA. That’s the road that will take you to the center of that atom.
In turn, that changed the way I structured the research project. To begin, I went through all the names of lynchings we had already collected. I then made a name database of lynching victims, but as I discovered in the newspapers, they also often listed the names of the perpetrators, more frequently than one would think. In addition, the DOJ often lists cases under the name of the killer, so in some places you only have th name of the killer. You can then use the DOJ litigation index at NARA to find the case number that is linked to that particular killer’s name, which hopefully reveals something about the event that was otherwise lost to time. So far, it has proven pretty fruitful; I’ve even discovered a number of cases the NAACP did not know about.
For example, I found a file in the DOJ records with a 1933 letter from Corinne Banks to FDR. Banks, who lived in Chicago, was the sister of Hirsch Lee, who had been lynched earlier that year. Lee was a 14 year old boy who lived with (and possibly worked for) a white family and had a friendship with a white girl in that family. A rumor spread that it was more than friendship and the family (along with other white men in the area) took Lee to the woods and killed him. They dismembered his body and left it in the woods. The DOJ wrote back to Banks to say they had no jurisdiction in this murder case. There is no indication that the NAACP or any other civil rights group ever found out. What struck me the most was the similarities to the 1955 Emmett Till case. How many Emmett Tills were there?
So in regard to what historians have argued, many historians suggest that lynchings peaked after WWI with another spike during the Great Depression, but then it goes into a long term decline. However, and please keep in mind this is still preliminary and based on this early research, while I think lynching did decline, it did not decline as much as we like to think it did.
Now I’m going to expand on this but keep in mind this is mostly just my opinion and not that of the CRRJ. That being said, I am willing to theorize that based on this research there is a baseline level of anti-black violence in US history that has proven very difficult to reduce. Some historians have discussed this, like Michael Pfeifer in his 2006 book, Rough Justice. He theorizes lynching declines because the death penalty takes its place. However, what I am discovering is that maybe the form of this baseline anti-black violence changes from lynchings to police killings. Lynch mobs became less necessary for the maintenance of white supremacy because officers of the law are serving the same function in killing mostly black or Latino men. When confronting black or Latino suspects they use excessive force that leads to death far more often than they do with whites. This was something very clear to those counting lynchings in the 1930s through the 1950s. A 1934 letter from a local NAACP investigator in Alabama to the NAACP describes this relationship:
“If we listed all of the cases where officers go with the intention of killing the man, we would have many more lynchings than any other organization lists. I was told by a teacher in Selma, Ala. that ‘the reason we have no lynchings around here is this: when a Negro gets out of line the officers go and bring him in dead – that is the general rule here’.”
So I am also looking at police brutality files in the NAACP and DOJ records. When the US goes from being predominantly rural to predominantly urban in the 1920s, it changes a great deal about American life particularly in how populations are surveilled and policed. You have the Great Migration bringing African Americans into cities in record numbers but also rural whites moving to urban America (to say nothing of European immigrants who came in the preceding decades). What used to get solved by lynching in the countryside starts getting addressed by professional or semi-professional police forces. Just to complicate this further, I think an older definition of lynching as popular justice, as spectacular, as carnivalesque, and this idea that historians have bracketed its era as ending in 1930, has prevented people from seeing the possible connection between the decline in lynchings and the increase in police killings and brutality. To test that out you would need a reliable adequate number of how many people killed by police over the past century and that work has not been done.
Is it safe to assume that the shift from lynchings to police brutality was due to political changes that resulted in anti-lynching campaigns (particularly by the NAACP) and the growing civil rights movement? Would you explain this shift another way or add to it?
Another complexity to think about is when lynchings do begin to decline, the NAACP and others link this decline to their repeated attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation. Though the NAACP never managed to pass an anti-lynching law, there is at least some evidence that keeping the issue of lynching before the public reduced the number of lynchings. In 1938, as Congress is debating an anti-lynching bill, at least four lynchings are averted by sheriffs explaining to the mob that a lynching would only empower the NAACP and other supposed enemies of the South.
But, there’s not enough solid evidence that it was the NAACP’s efforts to pass anti-lynching laws that led to lynching’s decline. It’s very possible that the NAACP increasingly needed to justify why it was prosecuting a fight, which they never win, at least in terms of legislative victories. Since the failure of the Dyer Bill in 1921, all attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation foundered in the face of a southern, white supremacist filibuster. But an anti-lynching law is NAACP President Walter White’s baby. The NAACP has a finite amount of resources and White must show his board of directors and others that there is a reason to pursue this anti-lynching campaign. White’s argument, at the risk of being too simplistic, is that the campaign, even if a failure legislatively, did marginalize lynching as an act such that it declined. White and the NAACP need to generate a narrative of success along the lines of “this hasn’t been a fruitless battle”; using these resources for anti-lynching makes sense particularly when for most of its history, the NAACP is a resource-strapped, zero sum institution. Because the NAACP starts to believe this narrative, I think they wind up undercounting the actual number of lynchings–particularly into the 1930s and 40s.
One last thing to add: I’d caution people who are doing this sort of research that it is emotionally impossible to distance yourself from the topic. You might see hundreds of dead bodies each week on television but it’s not the same. It’s case after case—and some cases go into great, disturbing detail. For instance, in NAACP investigative reports I came across the phrase “beaten to a pulp or jelly” again and again. I realized that this is not just a metaphor, but a literal physical state. I’ve asked some doctors I know if this was possible, and it is. If beaten hard enough, for a long enough time, flesh and blood and bone coagulates into a something like a jelly. That can make it hard to sleep at night. It’s something you can’t just harden yourself to; it takes a heavy emotional and physical toll. So, give yourself time to breathe, and carry on the work.
Driskell also runs a historical consulting business for institutions and individuals who require access to the wealth of historical resources in the DC-area. Major clients have included the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the National Labor College
New Orleans, and the state of Louisiana more generally, are often held up as the worst examples of policing and criminal justice. It’s where the Angola 3 were incarcerated, alongside Zulu Whitmore, as political prisoners. It’s where Amnesty International has focused much of its anti-carceral state activism. Angola often gets held up as “a modern day slave plantation” and Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) is constantly in the news, most recently for healthcare-related violations. I’m not arguing that these offenses aren’t bad and that they should go unrecognized. But in many ways, all these statistics and examples from Louisiana perpetuate ideas about the backward South, the eternal other of the great United States. For this reason (and many others) many historians of the carceral state have shifted their focus to incarceration and policing in the North and West (Captive Nation by Dan Berger , Heather Thompson’s Blood in the Water, Kali Gross’s two books on Philadelphia). This is laudable and these stories need to be told. But for those of us who want to write the stories of the South, how do we do this without reinforcing false notions of southern exceptionalism and northern innocence? (This is not to say that people are not successfully doing this: David Oshinsky’s Worse than Slavery and Robert Parkinson’s Texas Tough). In “Blinded by the Barbaric South: Prison Horrors, Inmate Abuse, and the Ironic History of American Penal Reform” from the edited edition The Myth of Southern Exceptionalism, Historian Heather Ann Thompson writes “First and foremost, interpretations that emphasize the “exceptional” nature of the southern justice system obscure the extent to which historical penal practices in northern and western states also have been inhumane and deeply racialized. Seeing criminal justice practices in the South as divergent from national standards fundamentally distorts understandings of how race and power played out across the United States after the Civil War.”
Instead of focusing on the many instances of inhumane treatment and abuse in the Louisiana prison system, especially against people of color, I am focusing on prisoner rights activists inside and outside of prison and their creative and intellectual production, their prisoner-rights organizing, and their spaces of activism. I aim to write about anti-carceral activism in New Orleans without furthering mythical notions about the South as “other.” I hope to avoid making New Orleans out to be the bad guy, when in fact the entirety of the United States is the “bad guy” when it comes to incarceration. From Lead Belly’s performances to lawsuits brought by the ACLU to Robert Hillary King’s memoir From the Bottom of the Heap, New Orleanians have fought incarceration in Louisiana. Though I’m writing a story of activism and agency now, I came to this project because I thought Angola was the “worst prison” and, in the way of an immature, budding historian, I thought something was only worth writing about if it was the worst. Tasked with choosing a research paper topic in my first semester of graduate school, I did exactly what I was told not to: I googled it. I landed on the Wikipedia page for the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which included a short paragraph on the Angola 3. While oft written about in popular culture, there didn’t seem to be much academically written about these men, locked in solitary confinement in the “worst” prison. I expected to write a tale of gross human rights violations and the aberration of the South. Instead I found a story of strength, activism, art, and love in the face of brutality. A story of friendship and organizing and people fighting for the lives and rights of these men at great personal risk. I wrote my thesis on the Angola 3, but as I traversed archives across Louisiana and conducted oral histories with activists across the country, I decided that I would focus on the uncommon strength and organizing of these men and women instead of dismissing an entire region as backwards.
Like many urban historians, sociologists, and other scholars, my focus is on the carceral state. I’m writing about activists, both historical and modern, who have fought for the rights of incarcerated people in New Orleans. In many cases, these activists had little in common beyond the commitment to the rights of the incarcerated. When prisons were being created across the country in the late 19th century, some of these activists fought for the creation of the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Others belonged to the NAACP and focused on the racial injustice embedded within Louisiana’s jails and prisons. Still more were involved with Black Power, education reform, and anarchist organizing. My project will follow prisoner rights activism in New Orleans from the late 19th century through to modern day organizing.
How did people of color and other prisoner rights activists use writing, art, and music to express the injustice of the carceral state? How did they carve out spaces, often informal, to fight these injustices politically? These people are exceptional: not because they are Southerners, but because they are fighting, every day, to end incarceration and injustice in Louisiana. By focusing on these activists and their stories, I hope to add nuance to the stories of incarceration in the South. Louisiana has Angola and the OPP, but it also has the longest continuously active chapter of the NAACP, Women with a Vision, NOLA to Angola, and Books to Bars. These organizations, and the activists who make them work remake the story of incarceration in New Orleans every day. It’s a story of injustice, civil rights violations, and abuse, but is also one of art, strength, and organizing.
Holly Genovese is a PhD student and public historian at Temple University interested in Southern history, Intellectual history, Gender, and the Carceral State. She is also a blogger for the Society of U.S. Intellectual History and a contributing editor at Auntie Bellum magazine. You can read her work at https://www.hollygenovese.com/ and follow her on Twitter @HollyEvanMarie.
Although Professor Holly Tucker wrote her new book for a non-academic audience, City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris begins with a scene uniquely suited to evoke terror and handwringing from historians. The preface, which Tucker entitles “Burn Notice,” is set in the palace of Versailles in 1709. King Louis XIV and his minister Louis de Pontchartrain stand before the hearth in the counsel room, where “Page by page, Pontchartrain handed … documents to the king, who fed each of them into the hungry flames. The two men watched the parchment curl and catch fire.” The king and Pontchartrain thought they were destroying all evidence of a seventeenth century scandal amongst the nobility, the Affair of the Poisons. “[T]he king silenced the horrors of the affair and the screams of its victims for good,” we read, before Tucker deftly assures us, “Or so he believed.”
Thankfully, the man who uncovered the scandal kept his personal papers separate from the archive of incriminating records that Louis XIV burned. Nicolas de La Reynie, Tucker’s central subject and the chief of police of Paris, was an obsessive note taker and recorder of information—indeed, this attention to detail was what made him so well suited to the job. From these papers and the records of the Bastille prison, Tucker painstakingly revived the characters and events of the Affair of the Poisons. In La Reynie’s investigation, noblewomen, debtors, renegade priests, and discarded mistresses were prime suspects in the epidemic of attempted poisonings so pervasive that not even the king was safe.
The captivating figure of La Reynie not only enlivens the story and creates a natural narrative tension, but he also makes City of Light, City of Poison so essential to historians of the carceral state. More than 160 years before British politician Robert Peel wrote the “Principals of Law Enforcement,” considered by many to be the foundational text of modern policing, La Reynie assembled a network of spies, a bureaucracy of commissioners, and a corps of officers to fight crime in Paris. Resembling a hybrid of municipal police forces and domestic intelligence services like the FBI or the French Gendarmerie, La Reynie and the Paris police defended the monarchy and the French state with the same vigor with which they defended Parisians from crime. I spoke with Holly Tucker about the parallels between pre-enlightenment and modern policing, what historians can learn from the Affair of the Poisons, and how humanities scholars should approach writing for a non-academic audience.
Avigail Oren (AO):City of Light, City of Poison tells the story of Nicolas de La Reynie, appointed lieutenant general of police by King Louis XIV of France in 1667 to clean up the city of Paris and improve public safety. The job seemed to be equal measures Director of Sanitation as Chief of Police. Why were sanitation and public safety so interrelated in seventeenth-century Paris?
Holly Tucker (HT): I think that although Louis XIV made Nicolas de La Reynie police chief, he was also really looking for someone who would serve, in a way, like Mayor of Paris. There had really been no one in Paris looking after the day-to-day aspects of life for Parisians. Jean-Baptiste Colbert was one of Louis XIV’s ministers, the prime interior minister, who was responsible for the construction of some of the eye-popping buildings built in seventeenth-century Paris. In the book I focus a lot on sanitation, but Nicolas de La Reynie was also responsible for responding in times of flooding. The Seine River flooded a lot. La Reynie dealt with the problem of bridges being swept away, and then the attendant problems of transportation. He was also very involved in food provisions, and policed and oversaw Les Halles, which was the main (huge) market for Paris. He looked as well at pricing mechanisms. In all, there was very little about Parisian infrastructure that he did not concern himself with.
AO: Although Nicolas de La Reynie was put in control of Paris in this hybrid role of police chief/mayor/bureaucrat, and he successfully implemented policies to light the city at night and have the streets cleaned by day, from your story it seemed that there were limits to how much control he was able to exert over Parisians. The Montorgueil quarter, for example, was a part of the city where La Reynie struggled to assert control over vice—to such an extent that it became the node, or the point of origin, in the web of events that became the Affair of the Poisons that you so vividly describe in the book. I was wondering if you could tell me what La Reynie would have seen while walking the streets of Montorgueil in the 1670s, in terms of both sights and sensory experiences?
HT: First, it’s really up for debate whether La Reynie physically went into the quarter. There’s some legend that he took a group of officers with him under the cover of night and went into the Court of Miracles [Ed: the name for the headquarters of beggars and organized criminals in Paris]. And that may indeed be apocryphal, but he did have a fair number of spies and other officers who would come into the quarter. But anyone who would have walked into that neighborhood would have seen abject poverty. They would have seen houses that were made out of wood, basically makeshift homes. And then at the same time, there was a major church and a few better-off residences, some homes made of stone—that still actually exist, there are a few seventeenth century homes that are still there. The bulk of the buildings on that street now are mostly eighteenth century residences, but the street grid is still the same. Of course, like the rest of Paris it would have been very dirty, perhaps even dirtier. Keep in mind that it’s just about five to eight minutes walking, assuming no obstacles, from that neighborhood to Les Halles, the main market, which was busy, crazy, stinky, and filled with thieves and prostitutes, and then from there only 10 minutes away from the Louvre, Louis XIV’s Paris Palace. I can walk from Montorgueil to the Louvre in 12 minutes.
AO: So this is really in the King’s backyard.
AO: In terms of geographic distance it seems incredibly close, but Montorgueil was in stark opposition to the opulent court of King Louis XIV, where much of the book takes place. Could you describe the Affair of the Poisons and how it demonstrates that the social distance between nobility and poor Parisians was closer than most people would suspect?
HT: Most inhabitants who would have been associated with the court weren’t living in the Louvre. The king himself was rarely at the Louvre. Louis XIV tended to be at a palace called Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the nobility themselves were over in the arrondissement that would have been about 20 minutes away. For as close as it is to many of the major landmarks, physically it would have been unlikely that we would have seen a lot of intersection between these two communities. But the Affair of the Poisons was basically a scandal—a very well known scandal in seventeenth-century history and amongst French historians—in which La Reynie, the police chief, discovered there was this cabal of poisoners, midwives, abortionists, so-called witches, and also renegade priests who were performing services for the nobility. And there was some question over time whether or not the nobility, particularly some of the king’s mistresses, were employing them in order to reach the king—either to have the king fall in love with them or to punish the king. And of course La Reynie wanted to clean up the city of crime, but he also wanted to protect the king to whom he was very, very dedicated. He ended up arresting over 400 people, over 200 people were tried in a secret tribunal, 30 people were executed, and among those many people were tortured. But what it showed was just how permeable the social spaces between the nobility and the lower classes actually were in the seventeenth century.
AO: I was really struck by that while reading the book. It didn’t seem so difficult for these noblewomen, whether they were the lower nobility or a mistress of the king like Athénaïs de Montespan, to seek out and get connected to some of these shadier characters.
HT: A number of people from the lower classes of course worked in the households as servants to these noblewomen. That was one of the “rewards” that could be had, that through these connections that the herbalists and midwives made, they gained an opportunity to place some women from the lower classes into jobs in noble households. And in fact, one of the king’s mistresses, Madame de Oeillets, the superstar actress who had been in the court of Montespan, came from Montorgueil. So as much as we’d like to think that these communities were so distinct, both physically in how the city was laid out, and socially, they were not as distinct as we would imagine.
AO: When translated to policing, I imagine that this social interplay lessened the distinction between controller and controlled. That could create confusion: what rules applied to whom, and who had the power to punish and enforce? You write a lot about how La Reynie exerted his control over the lower classes, but the King must have exerted control over the nobility and the members of his court as well. Ostensibly, until the Affair of the Poisons, it was not through the use of the police. Why did Louis XIV decide that a police force was necessary for Paris, but limit its reach into the King’s court?
HT: Actually the monarchy had been in great jeopardy not too long before, between 1648 and 1653 with La Fronde, the civil war. There was an uprising of the noble classes represented through the parliament, which is the main legal body of France. Louis XIV was only 5 years old and his mother, Anne of Austria, was regent. At the heart of the uprising was the very sustainability of the monarchy. Who would control the State? Louis XIV kept in mind throughout his adult years that, if not properly controlled, the nobility could bring about the end of the royal political structures. He also remembered being frightened as a child by death threats during the civil war that lasted five years. That’s also where we begin to see his reluctance to be in Paris. He was taken out of his bed in the Louvre when he was a very, very small boy and then taken to the palace of Saint-Germain, where he was born, and I think that he’d always seen Paris as being this unruly city. To the extent that we can speculate, I think for a while he was willing to let Paris go down its own path, it was just this necessary evil. Then in 1665, when two of the main proactive lawmen of the city—the criminal lieutenant and the civil lieutenant—were both killed, I think Louis XIV realized that by international reputation, Paris was out of control. I think it also was his call to action to make sure that the city did not give him more trouble, personally as monarch, than the nobility did years earlier. That’s why he gave La Reynie such broad powers, because my sense is he really wanted La Reynie to be acting as his physical proxy. La Reynie was very dedicated to the king, but Paris was his kingdom in a way, on behalf of the King.
AO: Although La Reynie was the lieutenant general of police, I was surprised that the force he oversaw did not seem to resemble the modern police departments familiar to most American readers. Most notably, La Reynie used a system of local commissioners to enforce his orders. In what ways did the seventeenth century police force differ from the professionalized police departments that would develop in the nineteenth century?
HT: I think we’re in the mid-range there, because the commissioners were part of the ad-hoc police force. There would be one or two commissioners per quarter responsible for receiving the complaints of the citizens who had already experienced some sort of crime or felt that they had experienced a crime. And La Reynie still engaged those commissioners in that he relied on them to collect the mud taxes, to mobilize their quarter according to his rules to clean and light the streets. But he brought in several hundred, if not up to one thousand, new officers, who were typically on horseback conducting surveillance in the city. He also had the Royal Musketeers as well, whom he would call in from time to time. So I wouldn’t call it the kind of modern police force that we might imagine, but La Reynie was definitely leaning in that direction. He ends up putting this all together in the matter of just a couple of years, which is really quite remarkable.
AO: In addition to these officers and commissioners, La Reynie collected intelligence “from a web of civil servants, lawyers, judges, doctors, and merchants,” and became known for his detailed reports about the goings-on in the city (p. 20). Indeed, King Louis XIV and his ministers came to trust and rely on La Reynie on the basis of the information he was able to collect and provide to them. This complex interrelationship between La Reynie, intelligence, and the state reminded me more of the FBI than a traditional urban police force. What does this early history reveal about how the relationship between national or state and local policing developed?
HT: I’ve also been really fascinated by spies and spying. Because so much of it was under the radar, it’s hard to know with great certainty what was going on. Information could be transmitted via little pieces of paper or parchment, folded and put in buttons that would be covered over in fabric. It’s only in the 1660s that Louis creates the French postal system, which came primarily out of an interest in wanting to know what was happening and what the citizens were talking about. In the king’s palaces, it has been documented that for letters that were going among the nobility within the palace, to have a centralized postal service the letters would have to go to special room where there would be several people who had all different types of ways of opening the letters. So at the same time that La Reynie is starting his police force, the king has started the postal service—and all of this is for the purpose of spying and keeping an eye on things. In fact I stumbled upon several letters—some are at the University of Pennsylvania actually—letters between La Reynie and Colbert where Colbert was saying, “Hey, I’ve been hearing at court that this person or that person, they’re riding around Paris in these extremely elaborate carriages. Help me figure out what’s going on.” Or, “the king is very unhappy about this, help us stop it.” Another thing that La Reynie did is he made it illegal to gamble in private homes, in favor of requiring people to gamble in public spaces. Why? So he could actually put spies in there to get a sense of who was doing what, what they were talking about, who was losing tons of money and who was gaining tons of money. Now what he did specifically with that information, we can’t be sure, but knowledge gathering during this time period went hand and hand with state building.
AO: I think that comes out really clearly in the book, and raises very interesting questions for historians to think about the carceral state and about state discipline across more levels of policing, from local to national.
HT: Toward the end of the Affair of the Poisons, when it was clear that La Reynie’s investigations were getting closer and closer to some of the people who had direct contact with the king, the fact that Louis XIV, who wanted to know everything about everything, instructed La Reynie to stop the investigation and to put under seal the most incriminating documents—and then, years later, to burn those documents—shows a clear recognition that public knowledge of certain events could be extraordinarily dangerous and powerful. And that means private knowledge can also be equally powerful, if not more powerful.
AO: In the book’s epilogue, you quantify the impact of the Affair of the Poisons. You mentioned some of these numbers already, but 442 people were questioned and 218 were imprisoned—28 of them for life—and 34 were executed for the crimes. It seems from your narrative that justice was not meted out equitably, and that the accused’s class affected the punishment they received, with some very notable exceptions. We see similar patterns of racial and class bias in policing and in the justice system in America today, and I assume in France as well. Yet most histories of the carceral state do not extend back to the seventeenth century. What insight can the Affair of the Poisons, as a lens into early policing, provide to historians interested in the history of policing and incarceration in the 19th and 20th century?
HT: I do think that there’s been, in reception studies, work that has shown both the contributions and also the disservices that Foucauldian approaches to incarceration and policing have given us, and I do think that studies like this help make the thesis much more complicated—in ways that others have also done through the whole debate twenty years ago about Foucault. There is still a lot that we can do to provide welcome nuance. The very fact that you’ve got different prison systems for different groups, the nobility were more likely to be in the Bastille, the lower classes were more likely to be at the Chåtelet. The Conciergerie in Paris were for very high-level cases and were typically tried by the Parliament. But that doesn’t exclude, either, the ecclesiastical courts. So the court and particularly the prison system in early modern France was extraordinarily complicated. And it was complicated both from the legal point of view, of course, but also because of the socioeconomic standing of those on trial.
AO: I wanted to conclude with two questions about writing for a non-academic audience. City of Light, City of Poison is the second book you have published with a trade press. How did you begin writing non-fiction? What are the advantages of publishing with a press like W.W. Norton?
HT: I think that, as humanists, we often do ourselves a disservice by not recognizing that we are storytellers. So I gave myself the freedom to think of myself as an academic-slash-researcher-slash-teacher-slash-storyteller, because that’s what we also do in our classes—for those of us who teach history or cultural studies or literature, we are re-creating something for our students that’s based on scholarship. So when I started thinking about what my next book would be, and this was after tenure, I stumbled on an interesting story. I’d been teaching the history of medicine for a while and I was teaching about William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of blood in 1638 and I really wanted to pep up the lectures somehow. I decided to show some primary documents, so I started going through the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and searching for references to blood. And that’s when I stumbled on these blood transfusion experiments. And the more I looked into them, the more I thought, oh my gosh, this is all about a modern biomedical technology that most people can’t imagine medicine without, and it’s got this fraught history because the first experiments were animal to human. And one of the first blood transfusion patients was actually murdered in the 1670s and the transfusionist was put on trial for what appeared, for all practical purposes, to be one of the first malpractice trials. Blood transfusion was effectively banned after that trial and in the court record it said, “the three doctors responsible for the patient’s death will come to justice shortly.” I read that and thought, “Oh my, what? There’s a cabal of doctors who have done what?” And I discovered that the patient had actually been poisoned. And so when I was thinking about how I wanted to write this—this was going to be my promotion book—the story was so rich and the characters were so amazing and the implications were huge because, underlying the murder was this concern that if animals were being transfused to humans there could be a real possibility of creating chimeras.
AO: I mean, clearly.
HT: Right? So I decided that I didn’t want to write for a small handful of people. So whether or not I was going to get promoted, it didn’t matter, and so I did my research to figure out how one goes about publishing for a larger audience and so I pitched agents. Then I picked an agent who worked really well with me and then she pitched it to different publishers and actually we had a number of publishers interested in it. And so that’s why, it was an amazing story. The challenge was trying to figure out, so what does this mean? Because I was used to writing academically, and it’s a completely different experience to write for a larger audience than it is for an audience of one’s peers. And I will say these last two books that I’ve written have been the hardest intellectual research experiences that I’ve ever had. You really have to get into cultural documents to find ways to bring readers into that period. So it’s not just about the ideas, it’s not just about the events that occurred, it’s about providing an accurate as possible snapshot of the time period so that readers can live the experience. It’s really hard to do that.
AO: How would you recommend scholars who have an idea for a non-fiction project begin to pursue non-fiction writing? How should they go about acquiring an agent or a publisher?
HT: I think the advantage we have as scholars is that we know how to ask questions and we know how to get information, and so when I had this idea I just started Googling. And then also, as far as writing style, I read books targeted to larger audiences that I really appreciated for the scholarship, like those by Jill Lepore, Jane Kamensky, Stephen Greenblatt, and a book I really enjoyed called The Most Famous Man in Americaby Debby Applegate. It won the Pulitzer Prize, so I got that book. I got Seabiscuit. We, as researchers in the humanities, we’re used to looking at texts carefully, digging through and looking at narrative structure, not just what’s being said but how it’s being said. I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit! If there was one good book I’d tell everyone to start with, it’s Susan Rabiner’s Thinking Like Your Editor. It’s a little bit older but I just looked at it again not too long ago and it gives extraordinarily good advice about how to know whether your idea is appropriate for an audience, and how to go pitching that, and what agents and editors are looking for, and how one goes about putting together a book proposal that is targeted for larger presses.
The Metropole is excited to debut a new series on urban policing, edited by Matthew Guariglia, a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Connecticut.
“The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder as an alternative to the repression of crime and disorder by military force and severity of legal punishment.” With this statement, British politician Robert Peel began his “Principals of Law Enforcement,” often considered the foundational text of modern policing. The nine points, published in 1829, create the framework for a system of coercive governance that relied on “persuasion, advice, and warning,” and sometimes the state’s monopoly on violence, to protect the developing liberal capitalist state. “The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public,” Peel writes, “that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police.” In a society that declared civil liberties sacred, police were to be a constant reminder of what the consequences could be when an individual failed to maintain “public respect.”
The history of urban policing, however, is plagued by a continuity of brutality. The recent highly publicized killings of urban residents of color by police and the international Movement for Black Lives that arose in response have made more people around the world aware of a problem many people of color have always known. Almost as quickly as Peel wrote that police should operate by “offering individual service and friendship to all members of society without regard to their race or social standing,” police across the Atlantic world and its colonies were deployed to create and enforce legal and extralegal regimes of control in the name of public safety and with the full support of less vulnerable members of society.
This continuity also obscures a long history of change and experimentation as police departments across the world developed and shared new tactics to control urban spaces and new rationales to justify that control. Technology changed, the racial and gendered makeup of police departments became more diverse, crimes were invented or disappeared from enforcement, and a fearful public continually renegotiated its relationship to policing in exchange for the promise of protection and safe streets. “The institution of the police,” said Michel Foucault, “which is so recent and so oppressive, is only justified by that fear. If we accept the presence in our midst of these uniformed men, who have the exclusive right to carry arms, who demand our papers, who come to prowl on our doorsteps, how would any of this be possible if there were no criminals?”
Disciplining the City: Policing and Incarceration in Urban Space is open to historians from all fields and time periods, and will explore the multifaceted and complex history of policing, crime, and incarceration in urban and suburban spaces. We are soliciting submissions to the series concerned with a number of topics, including: analysis of both change over time and continuity in the history of policing; the relationship between policing and racial and gender formation and sexuality; the classed, ethnic, racial, and gendered make up of the police force; policing as labor; the act and challenges of policing specific spaces and populations within the urban landscape; the technology and material culture of policing; urban incarceration; medicine and criminality; crime and the law; methods of preserving law and order in slave and colonial regimes; activism, police reform, and prison abolition; and, finally, the history of policing cities through an international or global lens.
Studying the history of policing in urban spaces is a complicated endeavour filled with ambiguous and often purposely-obscured archives. The series is therefore interested not just in publishing original research, but also posts that involve archive stories and close readings of specific primary sources central to one’s research. Historiographies and bibliographies of topics related to the history of policing, crime, and incarceration, book reviews, and author interviews are also encouraged in order to help readers follow the emerging field of carceral studies.